Book of Hours of Louis of Orleans

Book of Hours of Louis of Orleans f. 11v, The creation of Eve


f. 11v, The creation of Eve

The Creation of Eve is surrounded by a decorative border with angel musicians at the top playing a psaltery, a portable organ and a natural trumpet. The iconography of the angel musicians appeared in the 13th century, apart from, of course, that of the angel trumpeters in the Apocalypse, whose tradition dates back to the late Middle Ages. These beings usually accompany compositions concerning Our Lady. They became popular thanks to several studies about angels inspired by that of pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, the most noteworthy examples of which include the one by Ramón Lull, dated 1277, and the Llibre dels Angels dated 1392. As can be seen in the miniature’s decorative border, these angels are playing instruments of “low music”. Adoring angels are depicted at the sides and singing angels at the bottom.
The Garden of Eden, as we saw above, follows the topic of the locus amoenus: trees in the background, some bearing fruit, and a body of water from which a fountain arises, surrounding a portion of land where Eve is being created. God, with Christ’s features, grasps her wrist to help her emerge from the sleeping Adam’s side306 whilst blessing her. A group of angels behind the Creator watch the scene with their arms crossed in a sign of adoration. The only gesture the woman makes is to cover her sex with her hand. Paradise, with a lion sculpted in relief above the gate, is depicted as a place enclosed by walls and buildings similar to those of the late 15th century. The composition is similar to the same iconographic theme in the Book of Hours of Louis de Laval (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. lat. 920, f. 6r).
This representation is ranked third in L. Réau’s classification: a completely formed Eve emerging from Adam’s side with God’s help, giving her his hand. It is not unusual to find the creation of Eve instead of Adam, as can be seen in the Palermo paliotto, in the Hildesheim Missal and in a 13th century Psalter (Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, ms. 1136). This form of representation is however one of the earliest, appearing on Early Christian sarcophagi. Amongst its many variants, including those most similar to the illustration in the Book of Hours of Louis of Orléans, mention must also be made, in addition to the above mentioned Psalter, of the 12th century book known as Aelfric’s Pentateuch and two 13th century Bibles (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. lat. 11534 and Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, ms. 5590).
One important and unusual aspect is the appearance of the patron outside the walls of Paradise. He appears in three quarter profile with his hands joined and a vacant expression in his eyes but facing the next illustration. This is apparently the only figure that physically leads onto the next representation. Before him lies a prayer book309 placed on the frame, which also acts as a sort of window in an attempt to provide a feeling of depth, making the depicted figure highly important. The rather deficient perspective of the patron, however, makes him seem to be cut out directly against the walls. The representation of the bust of the figure portrayed is an old tradition harking back to imperial portraits which was still used, albeit less frequently, throughout the Middle Ages, as can be seen in a manuscript of the Notitia dignitatum imperii Romani (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. lat. 9661). The picture of the bust was of a panegyric nature, as it was known throughout the Western world and described by St Adelmus of Malmesbury in his De virginitate, written shortly before 960: “Those who make portraits of nobles or paint royal persons are in the habit of adorning such busts with gold leaves and decorating the graceful outlines of their limbs with refined ornaments”. This was, then, the kind of composition used for portraits of monarchs, who seem to be looking down on the crowd from their window or from a balcony, just as they used to appear before the people, and as princes and noblemen liked to be represented. In the 15th century, nearly all European painters considered the formula of a figure at a window to symbolise majesty and temporal power, the maximum expression of which was attained in the panel paintings of Venice and Lombardy, and in the miniatures of the Netherlands. This use of the bust for portraits of monarchs, aristocrats and holy people paved the way, precisely in the Netherlands, for a creation typical of the 15th century: the devotional diptych with busts or “devotional portrait”, consisting of a portrait together with a picture of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary. This invention, attributed to Roger van der Weiden represents an amalgamation of busts of religious icons and secular portraits, inspired by a forerunner consisting of devotional diptychs with standing figures. This desire to perpetuate prayer – whose oldest form characterises altarpieces featuring a patron, votive panels and devotional diptychs with standing figures – can clearly be seen in these “devotional portraits”. However, the portrait of the original patron of the Book of Hours of Louis of Orléans betrays the intrinsic character of this sort of representation because the atmosphere of silent prayer and inner meditation is missing due to the creation of Eve, weakening the link between divinity and the faithful. Even taking into account that a landscape was added behind the patron in some late fifteenth-century, Dutch “devotional portraits”, the tiny size of the person portrayed in the Hours of Louis of Orléans destroys this intimate atmosphere to a considerable extent.
The identity of the patron was already mentioned when trying to ascertain who was the owner of this book of hours, Louis of Orléans, who appears garbed in garments with leather lapels or, in the language of the time, “openings”, and slits in the sleeves, quite usual in the French fashion worn by certain noble classes in the last fifteen years of the 15th century, as was long hair. On one of his hands joined in adoration, he wears one ring on his ring finger and another on his thumb. He is completely separated from the scenes depicting the Creation of Eve and the Annunciation, by large architectural elements, i.e. the walls of the Garden of Eden and the architectural setting of the Annunciation. This type of representation is therefore already old-fashioned and has in fact little in common with other works by Jean Colombe himself and his atelier, such as the double page in the Hours of Louis de Laval (f. 50v-51r), and earlier ones, like Jean Fouquet’s Hours of Étienne Chevalier (Chantilly, Musée Condé, Gr. 201) in which the holy characters are more closely linked despite certain more or less obvious separation elements, such as the background and the different figures in the case of the former, and in the latter, which is more complex, the great distance separating the Virgin Mary from Étienne Chevalier. It must be borne in mind furthermore that these characters are situated opposite what could be considered to be devotional pictures of the Virgin Mary, whereas the figure in the Book of Hours of Louis of Orléans is opposite two historic events in which he could not have participated under any circumstances.

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